Rasheeda Bhagat

Modi has an image problem

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on March 12, 2018

In the eye of the storm…The Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi   -  Rajeev Bhatt

As the BJP celebrates the reprieve for Mr Narendra Modi in the 2002 riots cases, its exultation should be seen vis-à-vis the general sense of disenchantment in a country where the rich and the powerful are not often brought to book.

The Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, is back in the eye of the storm. The Supreme Court on Monday refused to pass any order on Mr Modi's failure or “inaction” in containing the Gujarat communal riots of 2002. Throwing the ball right back at the Ahmedabad trial court, it said the magistrate of this court will, based on the findings of the Special Investigation Team's final report, decide whether to proceed against Mr Modi and 62 others, including senior government officers.

Ms Zakia Jafri, widow of the former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was burnt alive in the Gulberga Society riots in 2002, had earlier filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court alleging that Mr Modi and his top bureaucrats had deliberately ensured that no help reached the Society as it was devastated by rioters. Having little faith that the Gujarat trial court would do justice to her grievance, she approached the Supreme Court, which on Monday ruled it would no longer monitor the riot cases.

No clean chit yet

While both Ms Jafri and her family have expressed disappointment and pain, saying that nearly 10 years have passed and Jafri's killers were still roaming free, the Congress, discredited so forcefully on charges of corruption and inefficiency, put a different spin on the verdict. Its spokesman, Mr Rashid Alavi, said this was far from being a “clean chit for Mr Modi… It will be difficult to wipe off the blot on Narendra Modi. His character is known to the entire country. He was unable to the curb communal violence in Gujarat.” This verdict comes as one more shot in the arm for the BJP, which had been slowly slipping into a listless state after it failed to wrest power from the UPA in the 2009 elections. But soon after its victory, UPA-II mimicked the BJP's comatose state vis-à-vis administration and then boosted the latter's morale by its tepid response to the plethora of scams and scandals that tumbled out of its cupboards.

This put the saffron party, plagued by internal conflicts and squabbles on leadership, on the path to recovery. And then along came Anna Hazare and his team to raise some serious question marks on the maddening complacency and contemptuous indifference with which the top cats in the Manmohan Singh government were responding to the series of monstrous scams.

Depending on which side of the saffron divide you are, you can argue that the jury is still out on Mr Modi's active or passive role in the burning and butchering of over 2,000 Muslims, something that was horrendously described by him as the natural outpouring of anger by four crore Gujaratis at the Godhra carnage.

National role for Modi?

The court order was, expectedly, received with great glee by the BJP camp, with such leaders as Mr Balbir Punj claiming this verdict would now pave the way for the BJP's poster boy to play a much bigger role in “national politics”. Other leaders, who themselves want to play this “bigger role,” were more guarded about crowning Mr Modi as their “national leader”.

They confined their sound bytes to how the misinformation campaign against Mr Modi had bombed and how they were always sure that he would be eventually exonerated as he had no role whatsoever in the 2002 killings, and so on. The septuagenarian BJP leader, Mr L.K. Advani, who has always been contesting and winning his Lok Sabha seat from Gandhinagar, with great support from Mr Modi, also welcomed the Supreme Court order.

The Congress, keeping a brave face, scoffed at the celebrations in the BJP camp and said the verdict was yet to come out exonerating Mr Modi. But significantly, the Supreme Court order — which should definitely give some relief to Mr Modi — comes at a time when Mr Advani has set the cat among the pigeons by announcing yet another ‘yatra'.

This time, the yatrawill be against corruption. But its very announcement and nuanced positioning by the “Advani camp” that this would mean the re-entry of Mr Advani on national centre-stage as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections, has not gone down too well with other prime ministerial aspirants such as Mr Arun Jaitley, Ms Sushma Swaraj and Mr Nitin Gadkari.

Unfortunately for them, the competition got that much tougher with the “Modi camp” using the peg of the latest Supreme Court order to foist yet another prime ministerial candidate.

Sense of closure

As the BJP celebrates this “victory”, its exultation should be seen vis-à-vis the general sense of disenchantment in the country that the rich and the powerful can always get away with murder in India. Just as in corruption cases and scams, where there is justified scepticism that those in high places can get away with the most blatant of corruption, there is bound to be matching in many sections at this development. Particularly among Gujarat's Muslims, and more so those who lost their loved ones and their lives' earnings in the 2002 carnage.

Nearly 10 years have elapsed since those dark days of the 2002 riots, and we should move on, say many voices. Granted; but to move on from any horrific tragedy, its victims need a sense of closure. If, on the one hand, Mr Modi's thumping victory in the post-2002 Gujarat Assembly elections proved his political supremacy, on the other hand, the beeline that big industrial houses are making for Gujarat, proves his administrative acumen and ability to inspire confidence in investors, both domestic and international.

But the nation still awaits the moment when this successful politician-cum-administrator will be able to inspire confidence that his much touted and celebrated mantra of growth, progress and development also encompasses the virtues of tolerance and inclusiveness for all religions.

Till that happens, not every Indian citizen will be able to tweet, as Mr Modi did on Monday, that “God is great”.

(Response may be sent to blfeedback@thehindu.co.in and rasheeda@thehindu.co.in.)

Published on September 13, 2011

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